The e-mails continue to appear in my inbox and I’m tired. No, I think weary might be a better word choice. It’s discouraging to stand on the bank of a raging river in hopes of building a bridge when the river just rages on and on. It’s overwhelming. As a result I haven’t had the energy to edit and make my thoughts pretty. I haven’t wanted to think about the e-mails and the mindset behind them. Sigh. But I feel like I should wrap this up before moving on to other things. (Like the e-mails about how marriages were more committed, children were more polite, and the world was a much better place before my generation and subsequent generations ruined everything. Sigh. No, that makes me feel weary too. I think I’ll write about daffodils.) Anyway, there are a few more things I want to share and then I’ll be quiet (about this).
In which the bitter taste rises up
Over the years I’ve encountered hate and fear in a variety of places, not just e-mails. It’s all the same though. It’s the mindset. I wish I could say the examples I’m sharing are isolated instances. They aren’t.
I’m far, far, far (oh, so far!) from perfect, and my fellow church attenders are less than perfect too, but it always seems to sting more when the slap comes from within a circle of trusted people.
Several years ago, in the mid 90’s, Iran was in the news, (isn’t it always!) and as we were chatting and catching up on the week, one of the ladies I didn’t know very well in my Tuesday morning Bible study said, “I don’t know why we don’t just bomb the whole country of Iran and all those hateful people. All they want is war; none of them over there want peace.” My scalp started tingling, I got hot all over, and for some miraculous reason I was able to abate the tears that were threatening in the form of a thousand pin pricks in my eyeballs.
Instead of absorbing the hate and feeling bad it was almost as if my heart told my mouth it was okay to “unbuckle and move about the cabin.” I spoke up — pointing out that I knew for a fact that there were women and men in Iran as we spoke who were loving, caring, peaceful people. Mothers nursing their babies and worrying about their school age children’s homework and their adolescent children’s attitudes. I assured her as kindly as I could that she was sorely mistaken about millions and millions of Iranian people, myself and my family included. My cousins! My aunts and uncles! Oh God!
At school, at the ladies’ Bible study, in my inbox — just to name a few places. Why not at church too?
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my homeschool routine was interrupted by a phone call from Ken telling me something terrible had just happened. We didn’t watch television but had a clunky old set gathering dust in the utility room. The children and I dragged the set out, dusted it off, rigged up an antenna made from foil and coat hangers, and tuned in with the rest of the world. I hugged my children, prayed, and cried.
I marveled at the variety of responses. For example, in the church we were attending the message was such that no one in attendance would ever want to invite a Muslim person into their home for a meal. Ever. I remember sitting in the pew overwhelmed with grief for the horror that had occurred in my country and grief for the pastor who had just used a very broad brush stroke to paint a picture most people were ripe to believe because of the recent events. Hate. Fear.
In another church across town the ladies of that congregation were offering to accompany Muslim women from the local mosque on their trips to the grocery store so the Muslim women wouldn’t feel afraid, alone, and threatened as they went out in public — out into a world that was gearing up to hate them. How beautiful.
Loving a neighbor. Regular everyday folks who helped a woman when she was afraid and alone and how that made a difference. Just imagine the difference!
Did they pass that paintbrush around?
Several years later we moved west to the land of open skies and prairie grass. We were finally realizing a dream of having land. A dream where my mom, my brother, and I could live slipper-distance apart. We bought land and had a plan. We got settled and my mother was supposed to join us after her retirement. We started attending a popular growing church in the closest town.
Soon after moving, I got the phone call that starts out, “Are you sitting down?”
I went to get my mom to care for her and let her live the few months she had left in the dream we had. My mom was losing her battle with lung cancer so I didn’t attend church for several months because I didn’t want to leave her, even for a few hours. After her death, I dragged my grief stricken body and soul back to church. That first Sunday back, I sat with my family and the congregation and listened to the pastor, a different pastor, in a different state, in a different denomination, use that same brush to paint a sermon. I was sure no one in that room would ever want to invite a Muslim person, or more specifically, an Iranian person into their home for a meal. Ever. Once again, I sat there grief stricken because of recent events and grief stricken for the pastor.
I refused to give up on church just because some pastor in some church grieved me — again. We changed churches, choosing the closest one to our home. Unfortunately, after that switch and for some time I went to church out of a sense of obligation, perseverance, and duty. I felt somehow apart now, and not a part of the congregation.
The church we were attending had a revival weekend. An out-of-town pastor came to speak and we were all supposed to feel revived. I guess. For me this weekend marked a revelation, not a revival. The revelation was that this church was suffocating me. I imagined myself wearing the wrong sized shoes for several years. This church wasn’t a good fit and it took a “revival” to get me to realize I was in the wrong denomination.
Not knowing where to turn next, Ken and I decided to hop back on the Canterbury Trail. I can remember sitting in the pew and listening to that Sunday’s reading from the seventh chapter of the book of Revelation: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, . . . this is where the reader had to pause due to the fact that she was choking up and fighting back tears . . . standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” My scalp was tingling, and I too was fighting back tears. With tears threatening to spill over, I looked at Ken, he smiled and put his arm around me — we were home.
My very own version of an invisibility cloak
I am privileged to hear a great many ugly things people would never say to an Iranian, Middle Eastern, or brown skinned person’s face, after all, I look so American. My pale skin is the ticket that includes me in conversations I would never otherwise be invited to. Other times when people do find out I’m Iranian it gives them someone to unleash their opinions on. A scapegoat.
September 11 brought an onslaught of opinions and, of course, e-mails. Ten years later, had I printed off all the e-mails, I could fill a file cabinet with them. I don’t actually print them off and put them in a file cabinet, but there is a sense in which I have collected the e-mails, along with the prejudiced things people say and do, and carried them around in my heart. Perhaps now I’ve reached my threshold and it overflows and spills over and that’s why I felt the need to write about it.
My favorite parts of the Bible are the red-lettered parts. My savior tells of the greatest commandments. (Note: “the greatest commandments” isn’t the same as “some insignificant suggestions.”) Namely: Love and more love! If you identify with Him, if you claim Him as yours, (and I’ll be frank, the folks who send me these e-mails do) then you really can’t get around the whole love God and love your neighbor thing, can you?
You won’t be the first to ask, “And who is my neighbor?” I really don’t think He was talking about the house next door (although, love those folks too!) since when asked, he didn’t say, “The house next door,” instead, He told a story. Read that story, the parable of the Good Samaritan, to find out. (You’ll find it in the Gospel of Luke chapter 10.) So now you know, He chose to use a hated foreigner, an outsider, instead of a priest or lay religious person to instruct about the identity of our neighbor. Your neighbor. My neighbor.
He didn’t hit people over the head. He went fishing with them, ate meals with them, and told them stories. (Oh! and died for them.)
I’m not sure how sending e-mails filled with lies, half-truths, and other people’s words taken out of context (yes, I check) will help make a case stronger either theologically or politically. Not knowing whether the content is true or not, and remaining apathetic about whether the content is true or not, and sending the propaganda anyway just means all the sender’s words lose value. Wanting something to be true (to validate a stereotype) doesn’t make it true. Honestly, spreading slander and gossip does more damage to one’s case (and soul) than you can imagine.
Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. Don’t look at me like that! I didn’t make that up by myself. Read it in the book of Proverbs, chapter 10 verse 18. So this is reason enough not to forward that e-mail. But also because of who I am. Those e-mails about Middle Eastern people, Muslim people, and immigrants . . . they hurt me. Like I said in the beginning, they bother me because of my history and my faith. Because of who I am and who I follow I will not forward the e-mail.
Why can’t she just be obsessed with dust?
I don’t know how Ken puts up with me. Some husbands out there have to put up with wives who can’t tolerate dust accumulation, but no, he got stuck with me: a wanna-be-bridge-builder. He is a much better person than I am. He always points out the positive, the good, and the potential. He deals with people the same way Jesus dealt with Simon Peter. He knows people will disappoint, but he doesn’t stop there. Sometimes this is maddening! I want him to stay in the corner with me and nurse my wounds and agree that people are disappointing, mean, and hypocritical. Ken sees people as Christ sees them. He has a faith in people that I can only admire. He doesn’t ever say the way I process the world is wrong. He tells me the world needs people like me. He’s my perfect complement. When I grow up I hope I’m more like him! In the meantime, I’ll run, and I’ll vent to him, and occasionally, I’ll write.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this; you’re helping me build that bridge over the raging waters, and for that I’m grateful.